The purpose of this manual is to define policies and procedures related to the conduct and administration of the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Curriculum and Instruction. This manual provides guidelines for successful completion of all stages of a doctoral degree, from admission to graduation.

The information in this manual is drawn from current practices and statements of policy and procedures adopted by the graduate faculty of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and from publications of the Graduate School that contain university-wide guidelines. This manual summarizes departmental guidelines, which in some instances exceed those of the Graduate School. 

Doctoral Students and graduate faculty are responsible to be informed of all current policies and procedures of the Graduate School as well as changes that might occur between releases of this manual. Students are advised to keep detailed records of their successful completion of each milestone in the program.

Contents of the Ph.D. Manual


Our Ph.D. policies and procedures are intended to assure high academic performance while permitting flexibility in what is required of each student to achieve that standard. Advisers and Ph.D. Committee members are expected to use their professional judgment in setting specific requirements for each doctoral student based upon their understanding of the student's individual goals and needs. Consequently, seldom do any two students complete their programs in the same way—even those who choose the same emphasis area. All students are admitted to the Graduate School, College of Education, and Department of Curriculum and Instruction (C I) through standard procedures. Each student is assigned an adviser from the selected emphasis area. Each student must complete a Qualifying Examination and then within an eight year period complete the residency requirement, English competence requirement, a written and oral Comprehensive Examination, and a dissertation and Final Oral Examination. 

Credit Load

Full-time enrollment is defined as 9 graduate course credits of academic work during a semester. In C I, we recommend that doctoral students exceed the 9 credit minimum when possible. The Graduate School considers 15 credits to be the maximum load for full-time academic work in a graduate program (see Policy GCAC-501). 

Note that there are additional credit load policies for graduate assistants (see Policy GSAD-501) and international students (see Policy GSAD-502).


Doctoral students at Penn State must meet a residency requirement. Residency for the C I Ph.D. program is defined as spending at least two consecutive semesters as a registered full-time student engaged in academic work at the University Park campus. The year of residency can begin during the semester in which a student passes the Qualifying Examination or after that semester. Summer sessions do not count towards residency, and C I 601 and C I 611 cannot be used to meet the residency requirement. The residency requirement must be met prior to graduation from the doctoral program. 

Note that the residency requirement is different for full-time University employees enrolled in a Ph.D. program (see Policy GCAC-601).

Emphasis Areas

The Ph.D. program in C I includes eight emphasis areas: 

Curriculum and Supervision

Early Childhood Education

Literacies and English Language Arts

Language, Culture, & Society

Mathematics Education

Science Education

Second Language Education

Social Studies Education

Dual-Title Degree Programs

Two dual-title degree programs are available to C I doctoral students:

(See Policy GCAC-208 for more information about dual-title programs.)


Doctoral students may pursue one or more minors in areas outside C I. A minor must include at least 15 credits, with at least 6 credits at the 500-level. A minor requires approval from C I as well as from the minor program and the Graduate School. At least one faculty member from the minor field must serve on the student’s Ph.D. committee. (See Policy GCAC-611 for more information about minors.)

The adviser-advisee relationship is critical to successful doctoral studies. Therefore, in C I, we encourage students to recognize that this relationship must be a mutually comfortable and productive one. Students may change advisers at any time during their program through consultation with the C I Director of Graduate Studies. 

An initial adviser is assigned once a student is admitted to the C I doctoral program. This adviser is expected to orient the student to the program and to advise the student in appropriate beginning coursework. All students should enroll in C I 590 during their first fall semester in the program in order to complete their orientation and fulfill the Scholarship and Research Integrity (SARI) requirement for all graduate students.

The initial adviser should ensure that any prerequisite conditions for a student’s admission have been met during the first year and prior to the Qualifying Examination. In most cases, the initial adviser serves the student's academic adviser through the completion of the Qualifying Examination and may, upon mutual consent of the student and adviser, become adviser and chair of the student’s Ph.D. Committee at that time. A student may also change advisers at this time. 

Advisers are also responsible to provide support for all doctoral students’ English competence from the beginning to the end of the doctoral program. English competence will be assessed at the time of the Qualifying Examination and this requirement must be satisfied prior to scheduling the Comprehensive Examination. 

After the Qualifying Examination, an adviser and Chair should help the student to develop a plan of study, select a Ph.D. Committee, and prepare for and complete the Comprehensive Examination. Upon successful completion of those examinations and mutual consent, the adviser and committee chair may become the student’s dissertation adviser and/or chair of the dissertation committee.

The Chair of a Ph.D. Committee assumes responsibility for compliance with the Graduate School policies and procedures during the dissertation and defense process.  The dissertation adviser consults with and is responsible for providing guidance to the student throughout the dissertation process from the prospectus to the oral defense of the dissertation. It is not necessary that the Ph.D. Committee Chair and the dissertation adviser be the same person, although that often is the case.

The position of Chair of a Ph.D. Committee is restricted to Category R members of the Graduate Faculty (see Policy GCAC-101).

The Qualifying Examination is used to evaluate whether a student: 

  • has determined an appropriate direction and goals for the doctoral studies in the chosen emphasis area of C I;
  • has sufficient background knowledge of developments, issues, and trends in that field of study;
  • has completed all prerequisites set upon admission to the C I Ph.D. program; and
  • exhibits the necessary knowledge, skills, dispositions, and motivation to complete doctoral studies in C I. 

Per Graduate School policy (see Policy GCAC-604), the Qualifying Examination can be administered after the student has earned at least 18 credits in graduate courses eligible to be counted toward the Ph.D. To be eligible, the student must also have a GPA of 3.00 or greater, and no incomplete or deferred grades, in graduate coursework at Penn State. 

The Qualifying Examination must be administered within the first three semesters (not including summer term) of entry into the Ph.D. program. For students pursuing a dual-title degree, the Qualifying Examination must be taken within four semesters (not including summer term) of entry. 

The Graduate School places the date of successful completion of the Qualifying Examination on the student's graduate transcript. The student must also complete all requirements for the Ph.D. in C I within eight years of that date (see Policy GCAC-610). Requests for extension of completion of degree should be made through a student's adviser and the C I Director of Graduate Studies. 

In consultation with the student, the adviser is responsible for planning and scheduling the Qualifying Examination. The Qualifying Examination Committee should include the adviser and at least one other C I faculty member. Both the adviser and faculty member must be currently approved by the Graduate Faculty in C I. Students who are considering completing a concurrent master's degree or a doctoral minor are strongly encouraged to include a faculty member from that field on the Qualifying Examination Committee. 

If a student is in a dual-title program, it is recommended that faculty administer a single Qualifying Examination that includes content from both C I and the dual-title area. The Qualifying Examination Committee must include at least one member of the Graduate Faculty from the dual-title program. 

At least three weeks prior to the desired date of the Qualifying Examination, the adviser should notify the C I Graduate Program Office to request that the examination is scheduled. 

The Qualifying Examination requires the presentation and discussion of written materials that address the purposes of the exam. During the exam, the student and faculty should consider possible areas of research, discuss the Plan of Study, and begin the process of identifying other faculty who might serve as members of the Ph.D. Committee.

Based on the student's performance during the exam and the written materials submitted, the Qualifying Examination Committee members provide an evaluation of the student, selecting one of the following three options:

  • The student passed the Qualifying Examination and should now be considered an official doctoral student;
  • The student failed the Qualifying Examination, but can re-take it; and
  • The student failed the Qualifying Examination and will not be given an opportunity to retake it. The student is removed from the program.

In C I, it is considered that a re-take of the Qualifying Examination will occur within one calendar year of the original exam. The Committee indicates its evaluation on the Report on Doctoral Qualifying Examination, which should be submitted immediately to the C I Graduate Program Office for review and signature by the Director of Graduate Studies.

If the student passes, the student will receive a letter from the Graduate School indicating that the milestone has been met. If the student does not pass, the adviser has 30 days from the date of the exam to send the student a letter/email indicating the results of the exam and "any identified deficiencies as well as any remedial steps" recommended (see Policy GCAC-604) and a copy of the completed Report on Doctoral Qualifying Examination. Whether or not the student passes the exam, the completed Report must be received by the Graduate School within 30 days of the exam. 

At Penn State, all graduate programs are required to assess Ph.D. students’ English language competence. In C I, we view this requirement as an opportunity to encourage all students to improve written and oral communication through both formal and informal learning opportunities. To support students’ development with respect to English communication, faculty may recommend engagement with one or more campus resources or programs such as those offered by EPPIC (English for Professional Purposes Intercultural Center) and the Graduate Writing Center

The assessment of English competence will take place at the time of the Qualifying Examination. Writing will be assessed through evaluation of written materials submitted for the Qualifying Examination. Competence in oral language use (i.e., listening and speaking) will be assessed through evaluation of students’ responses to questions posed by faculty during the Qualifying Examination meeting. Per Graduate School policy (see Policy GCAC-605), English language competence must be assessed separately from Qualifying Examination assessments of disciplinary knowledge. Both the Qualifying Examination content and English competence will be assessed by the faculty administering the Qualifying Examination. 

C I faculty will be guided by an agreed-upon set of criteria, as applicable to the particular writing selection and oral conversation, when assessing doctoral students’ English competence. To assess students’ oral communication, the faculty will consider whether the student …

  • speaks at a steady rate and with appropriate pauses; 
  • addresses topics and questions with focused, relevant responses; 
  • presents ideas in a coherent manner; 
  • when requested, is able to expand on topics with minimal faculty intervention; 
  • can discuss sophisticated concepts and use terms appropriate to the discipline;
  • makes few mistakes in grammar that affect clarity;
  • has few issues with pronunciation that affect comprehensibility;
  • engages with the committee using volume, eye contact, and body language appropriate to professional context; and
  • understands questions with minimal negotiation or repetition.

To assess students’ writing, the faculty will consider whether the student …

  • addresses the prompt; adheres to genre conventions for the task; demonstrates understanding of the assignment;
  • organizes ideas logically; links ideas within and across sections;
  • synthesizes information from multiple sources; positions arguments within the field of study; shows relationships among ideas;
  • uses details and examples to support arguments;
  • successfully paraphrases and quotes appropriate sources;
  • follows the discipline’s scholarly style; achieves appropriate tone; follows disciplinary citation conventions; and
  • makes few mistakes in grammar that affect clarity of meaning.

To assist with applying this set of criteria, faculty may choose to use these Written and Oral English assessment worksheets

The faculty administering the Qualifying Examination will reach a shared decision based on the criteria listed above. The adviser will bear responsibility for joint decision-making among committee members, completing the required paperwork, and sharing results with the student. Results of the assessment of English competence will be submitted to the CI Graduate Program Assistant when reporting the results of the Qualifying Exam. 

On the form, Report on Assessment of English Competence for Doctoral Students, faculty will recommend one of the following results: 

  • passed,
  • conditional pass (improvement is needed; student will be re-assessed before the comprehensive exam),
  • failed (improvement is needed; student will be re-assessed before the comprehensive exam), or
  • failed (student will not be permitted to re-take the assessment and must withdraw from program).

After the assessment, the adviser will send an email to the student indicating the results of the assessment and any recommendations for improvement.

When needed, faculty will work with students to develop recommendations for improvement. The student bears responsibility to pursue the opportunities for improvement suggested by the Qualifying Exam committee. A subsequent administration of the English competence assessment must include the adviser and at least one other C I Graduate Faculty member and will again be based on the criteria above for written and oral English assessment. Doctoral students must pass the assessment of English competence before the Comprehensive Examination is scheduled.

Faculty are encouraged to monitor students’ oral and written English competence prior to and following the qualifying examination and to promote the use of available resources for enhancing students’ language proficiency throughout the Ph.D. program. Many of the available resources may be beneficial even for students who pass the English competence assessment at the time of the Qualifying Examination.

Within one calendar year of completion of the Qualifying Examination, a student must have an approved Ph.D. Committee. Although C I nominates members of the Ph.D. Committee, the composition of a Ph.D. Committee must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. The C I Graduate Program Office will provide the “Doctoral Committee Appointment Signature Form” when needed. 

A Ph.D. Committee is composed of at least four members of the Graduate Faculty, at least two of whom must be appointed in C I. One of the C I members, most likely the student’s adviser, should be from the student’s emphasis area. The Committee must have a Chair (from the C I Graduate Faculty), an Outside Field Member, and an Outside Unit Member. The student’s adviser must serve on the Committee, and the Chair and adviser may be the same person. 

The Outside Field Member represents a field outside the student’s field of study in order to provide a broader disciplinary perspective. The primary appointment of at least one member of the Committee must be in an administrative unit different from the Committee’s Chair and the student’s adviser. The Outside Unit Member may also serve as the Outside Field Member. 

Students who are pursuing a graduate minor should have a Minor Field Program Member on the Committee. For students pursuing dual-title degrees, the Committee Chair or Co-Chair must be a member of the Graduate Faculty in the dual-title program. 

Doctoral students should play an active role in the selection of Ph.D. Committee members by consulting with their adviser, reading research publications by a variety of faculty members, and enrolling in classes taught by faculty members from the Department, College, and University. All committee members demonstrate their consent to serve by signing the Committee Appointment/Signature Form. This signed form can be obtained from and should be submitted to the C I Graduate Program Office, which then forwards the form to the Graduate School for final appointment of the committee. 

Students can make changes as needed in the structure or membership of the Ph.D. Committee, with consent of their adviser, by filing a new Committee Appointment/Signature Form. To make changes in the committee or to change adviser, the student should contact the C I Graduate Program office. 

Membership of Ph.D. Committees should be reviewed at least annually. Committee Chairs and doctoral students are encouraged to read in full Policy GCAC-602 Ph.D. Committee Formation, Composition, and Review.

Doctoral committee members are responsible for general guidance through the entire program and for the following specific academic elements: 

  • To review, advise, and consent to the student’s Plan of Study; 
  • To conduct and judge the written and oral Comprehensive Examination;
  • To review and accept the dissertation prospectus;
  • To hear and judge the Final Oral Examination (defense of the dissertation); and
  • To indicate approval of the dissertation by signing the Dissertation Signatory Page. 

On an annual basis, the Ph.D. Committee should evaluate the student’s progress toward the degree. As specified in Policy GCAC-603, the Ph.D. Committee is responsible for approving a written assessment of the student’s progress on an annual basis. This assessment should: 

  • address the quality of the student’s research and progress toward the degree, and may include recommendations to improve the student’s research as well as any concerns identified (with suggested actions to address the concerns); 
  • assess the student’s professional development and provide recommendations appropriate to the student’s career goals; and
  • reflect the assessment of all members of the committee, including any minority opinions.  

The Ph.D. Committee will assess the student within one semester after its approved formation (excluding summer term). It is recommended that the entire Ph.D. Committee meets with the student for the annual assessment. If there is not a meeting, or if not all members are present for the meeting, it is recommended that the student meet annually with each member.  

The Ph.D. Committee will review and approve an annual assessment report that should: 

  • include the opinions of all members and need not be unanimous; 
  • address the elements listed above (quality of the student’s research and progress toward degree, recommendations for further study/experiences, or advice for improvement); 
  • include comments from the student with respect to the meeting and report; and
  • indicate plans for future meetings of the committee. 

The student must acknowledge receipt of the annual assessment report. The Ph.D. Committee Chair will submit the completed assessment to the C I Graduate Program Office. The assessments will be kept on file during the student’s program. 

A Ph.D. Committee may develop its own format for annual assessments (e.g., a letter to the student, along with the student’s reply). This sample assessment formis also available for use. Although variations on the assessment report are acceptable, the student, the Chair, and all committee members must sign the report before it is submitted. 

The Ph.D. in C I is intended for students who desire to strengthen their abilities to do scholarly work and research in one or more of the C I emphasis areas. Ph.D. students are characterized as those individuals who will add to the knowledge base in their fields through intensive, systematic investigations of original questions. In preparation for this work, students and their Ph.D. Committees design a series of courses, readings, and experiences that will enhance the student’s understandings of the traditions, research, and practices in their field and prepare the student to conduct original research. This design becomes a formal document when the committee members sign the Ph.D. Plan of Study Form and submit it to the C I Graduate Program Office at least one semester prior to a student’s Comprehensive Examination. Requests to revise the Program of Study should be approved by the student's Ph.D. Committee after the student and adviser discuss the changes and through the adviser's direct communication with the committee.

The Graduate School has not set a minimum number of course credits for completion of the Ph.D. degree. The C I faculty have agreed in principle that a plan of study will include a distribution of courses and experiences among four categories: C I doctoral core, depth of knowledge (emphasis area), breadth of study (supporting field or fields), and research knowledge and capabilities. The student, doctoral adviser, and members of the Ph.D. Committee negotiate the specifics of this plan. 

Core Requirements

Core Requirements include two credits of course work. Students must enroll in C I 590 (one credit) during the fall semester of their first year in the doctoral program. This course offers an orientation to the C I doctoral program and fulfills the Scholarship and Research Integrity (SARI) requirement. Students must also enroll in a 590 colloquium (at least one credit) within their chosen emphasis area.

Depth of Knowledge / Emphasis Area

Depth of Knowledge can be demonstrated through the successful completion of a combination of courses, readings, and experiences. The specifics of this category are left to the discretion of the emphasis area and the acceptance of the members of the Ph.D. Committee. Committees typically expect the equivalent of at least 18 credits of course work to indicate depth of knowledge.

Breadth of Study / Supporting Field

Breadth of Study represents a student’s efforts to broaden his or her inquiry into a chosen field by including a collection of academic, professional, and foundational work and studies in other departments and colleges across the University. Ph.D. Committees typically expect the equivalent of at least 15 credits to demonstrate breadth.

Research Knowledge and Capabilities

Research Knowledge and Capabilities are demonstrated through completion of coursework and projects. Ph.D. students are expected to demonstrate the ability to function effectively within at least two research traditions; be able to read, understand, and critique published research; and create, conduct, evaluate, and report on their original studies to scholarly audiences. The C I faculty recognizes the legitimacy of a wide variety of research traditions, including, but not limited to demographic, ethnographic, experimental, hermeneutic, historical, interpretive, linguistic, narrative, phenomenological, and theoretical. Ph.D. Committees typically expect at least 12 credits as demonstration of competence in this category.

The Ph.D. Plan of Study Form lists the following courses and requires that the semester, course name, and instructor for each course be filled in:

  • Core Courses (2 credits):  C I 590 (1 credit) and Emphasis Area 590 (1 credit)
  • Emphasis Area (18 credits)
  • Supporting Field (15 credits)
  • Research (12 credits)
  • Dissertation (0 credits)
  • Minor (15 credits), if applicable
  • Additional courses, if applicable

The Plan of Study form is then signed by the student, the Ph.D. Committee Chair, and all members of the Ph.D. Committee. The signed form is submitted to the C I Graduate Program Office. 

The Graduate School requires all Ph.D. students to pass a Comprehensive Examination administered by their Ph.D. Committee. This examination is intended as an opportunity for students to demonstrate the expertise acquired through the completion of their Plan of Studyand whether the student is prepared to begin dissertation research. The Comprehensive Examination is not a review exercise in which the student reiterates information. Rather, the examination is an attempt to assess the student’s facility in integrating disparate information, responding creatively and critically to the issues raised, conducting and presenting original research, and communicating in a scholarly manner. 

The Comprehensive Examination is an individualized process in which a unique set of questions or written tasks is prepared for each student. Accordingly, the C I faculty recommends that students schedule a pre- Comprehensive Examination meeting with their Ph.D. Committee at which they discuss the topics and format for the examination to follow. The C I Graduate Program Office may assist in scheduling a room and completing the appropriate paperwork.

In C I, a Comprehensive Examination has written and oral components. The written component is organized and conducted according to the guidelines of the student’s C I emphasis area and the discretion of the Ph.D. Committee. Following the student’s completion of the written component, each member of the student’s committee reviews and evaluates all written responses. The student’s Ph.D. Committee Chair collects these evaluations and determines whether the student has passed the written component. To achieve a pass, each member of the committee must accept the body of a student’s written work as competent. If a student fails the written examination, the oral portion cannot proceed, and the committee sets conditions for the student to meet before a second written examination can be conducted. These conditions may include additional coursework. Upon successful completion of the written component, the student’s oral portion of the examination can be held. 

The oral component of the examination is designed to allow committee members to probe more deeply the areas that the student addressed in the written component, to consider the student’s understanding of relevant theory, to listen to the student’s perspectives on disciplinary issues and questions, to inquire about the student’s growth as a doctoral student, or to inquire about the student’s plans for further research. The oral component is typically scheduled as a two-hour session during which the committee actively questions the student. The oral component must be scheduled at least three weeks in advance of the examination date through the C I Graduate Program Office.

Immediately upon completion of the oral component of the Comprehensive Examination, the committee members confer to evaluate the student’s performance according to the criteria listed on the Graduate School Comprehensive Examination Report. At least two-thirds of the committee members must agree for a passing result to be recorded. Failure on the Comprehensive Examination can result in a student’s termination from the doctoral program, or committee members can set conditions for the student to meet before a re-examination can be held. All decisions are recorded on the Graduate School form, and the date of passing becomes part of a student’s record. After the oral component, the adviser should provide the student with a detailed analysis of his or her performance. The results of the Comprehensive Exam are immediately reported to the Graduate School. 

Students are responsible for arranging their Comprehensive Examinations.Students must have completed the C I core courses and all their work in the Research Knowledge and Capabilities category, must have a minimum grade point average of 3.0, and no missing or deferred grades before the oral component can be scheduled. In addition, the English competence requirement must be met before the Comprehensive Examination can be scheduled.  

The following is a list of steps for planning the Comprehensive Examination. 

  1. Meet with adviser to review the emphasis area’s approach to the Comprehensive Examination and to discuss the time frame and topics for the written portion.
  2. Schedule a pre- Comprehensive Examination meeting with the full Ph.D. Committee to be sure that all members are aware of policies and agree on topics and timeline.
  3. Set a date by which the student must complete the written component of the Comprehensive Examination, being sure to leave at least two weeks for committee members to read and respond to written material before the agreed-upon date for the oral component.
  4. Three weeks prior to the agreed-upon date, notify the C I Graduate Program Office of the date, time, and location for the oral examination. The C I Graduate Program Office notifies the Graduate School, which sets the official call for the oral portion of each student’s Comprehensive Examination. The Graduate School is not involved in the written portion of the examination.

The student must be physically present at the oral component of the Comprehensive Examination, as must the dissertation adviser and Committee Chair (possibly the same person). At least three members of the Ph.D. Committee must be physically present. Please see Policy GCAC-606 for details regarding the participation of committee members from a distance (e.g., via telephone or videoconference). 

If a student is in a dual-title program, a separate Comprehensive Examination is not required, but the dual-title program representative on a student's Ph.D. Committee must have input into the development of the Comprehensive Examination.

As per Policy GCAC-606, when more than six years have passed between completion of the Comprehensive Examination and completion of the program, the student is required to pass a second Comprehensive Examination before the Final Oral Examination (dissertation defense) is scheduled.

Once a student passes the Comprehensive Examination, continuous registration must be maintained until graduation (Policy GCAC-515).

The dissertation is a capstone experience of the doctoral program in which students plan, conduct, and defend original research that contributes significantly to the body of knowledge in their chosen field. Although completed with consultation from the adviser and Ph.D. Committee members, the dissertation is intended to enable the student to demonstrate her or his abilities to complete sophisticated research independently and to describe and interpret that work in a scholarly manuscript. The dissertation has three phases: prospectus, research, and oral defense. 

Dissertation Prospectus 

Although students should be involved in research throughout their doctoral programs, formal Ph.D. Committee approval of a dissertation prospectus (proposal) must precede any serious pursuit of dissertation research. A dissertation prospectus should include: 

  • a clear statement of the problem or question to be considered, 
  • a detailed rationale for the study, 
  • a thorough description of the theoretical and research context of the study within related literature, and
  • the proposed means by which data will be gathered and analyzed. 

A full Ph.D. Committee meeting is the typical way in which students seek approval for their dissertation prospectus. Both the student’s and Committee’s interests are served by this meeting, because approval of the prospectus establishes the conditions for the successful completion of the study and the doctoral program. The student and all members of the Committee demonstrate their approval of the prospectus by signing the C I Dissertation Prospectus Form and filing it with the C I Graduate Program Office. 

Dissertation Research

All students who will engage in research involving human subjects must obtain approval for their procedures from the Institutional Review Board through the Office of Research Protections prior to starting their study. 

The research phase of the dissertation is directed by the guidelines of the prospectus, the dissertation adviser monitoring, and the judgment of the student. The student prepares the written dissertation document and considers the Graduate School's Thesis Guide for format and other requirements. Although this dissertation draft likely will be revised after the Final Oral Examination, the dissertation should be in its complete and final form when it is shared with committee members. If a committee member finds that the draft is not acceptable with respect to content and style, he or she must notify the Chair (or adviser) at least one week in advance of the Final Oral Examination, which may be postponed. (See Policy GCAC-607 and Procedure for Policy GCAC-607).  

Upon completion of the dissertation draft to the satisfaction of the thesis adviser, the student begins a series of steps toward the Final Oral Examination: 

  1. Confirms a time and date for the Final Oral Examination with members of the Ph.D. Committee. This date must be 3 months after the recorded date of the Comprehensive Examination and allow committee members at least two weeks to read and evaluate the dissertation draft. 
  2. Informs the C I Graduate Program Office of this agreed-upon time and date for the Final Oral Examination and confirms the membership and structure of the Ph.D. Committee at least three weeks prior to the Final Oral Examination date. The C I Graduate Program Office forwards these plans to the Graduate School, which officially recognizes the members of the Ph.D. Committee, calls the meeting, and prepares the evaluation documents required for the examination. The Graduate School requires at least three weeks prior notice in order to sanction a student’s Final Oral Examination.
  3. Submits a copy of the dissertation to the Graduate School for format review
  4. Distributes the dissertation draft to all members of the Ph.D. Committee. 

Final Oral Examination

During the Final Oral Examination, the student makes an oral presentation of the dissertation and addresses questions from Ph.D. Committee members. The Final Oral Examination typically is two hours in length and follows procedures agreed upon by committee members prior to the meeting. The student’s presentation is open to the public. Committee members may ask questions about any part of the research, the dissertation draft, or any other topics bearing on the student’squalifications to receive a doctoral degree. 

The examination will typically take place in Chambers building, the location of the academic unit (C I), and the student must be physically present. At least three members of the Ph.D. Committee, including the Chair and dissertation adviser, must be present.  Please see Policy GCAC-608 for details regarding the participation of committee members from a distance (e.g., via telephone or videoconference).

Immediately after the examination, Ph.D. Committee members evaluate the student’s oral and written performances. This is a two-step process. First, if at least two thirds of the committee members agree that the student has performed acceptably, then they sign the Graduate School Final Oral Examination Form and the adviser files it with the C I Graduate Program Office. If less than two thirds of the committee find the oral performance acceptable, the form is marked accordingly and filed. In the case of failure, the Ph.D. Committee sets conditions for the student to meet before a second Final Oral Examination can be scheduled. Under either circumstance, the results must be reported to the C I Graduate Program Office, and the committee member from outside C I must evaluate the dissertation separately and register that evaluation with the Graduate School.

Second, members of the Ph.D. Committee judge the adequacy of the written dissertation as a separate decision. At least two-thirds of the committee must approve the dissertation. Often the committee will make suggestions concerning how the final form of the dissertation might be improved, and they will require revisions to the dissertation even having given a passing evaluation for the oral examination. The adviser must inform the student about the scope and depth of the committee’s recommendations for change within a week of the Final Oral Examination. After the student has revised the dissertation to accommodate the committee’s suggestions, each member of the Ph.D. Committee demonstrates their final acceptance of the dissertation by submitting an electronic signature through the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (eTD) application. (This replaces the paper Signatory Form that was previously used.)

With those signatures, the student obtains the signature of the C I Director of Graduate Studies, and then the C I Graduate Program Office submits the signature page to the Graduate School. The student then submits the completed final dissertation to the Graduate School Thesis Office according to the guidelines in the Thesis/Dissertation Guide. Doctoral dissertations are submitted electronically; the Thesis Guide describes the format and other requirements for the finished manuscript.

Following the Final Oral Examination, we ask graduates to provide future contact and employment information to the C I Graduate Program Office. Completion of the C I Ph.D. Graduate Information form is encouraged. 

Students are required to activate their intent to graduate on LionPathwithin the first two weeks of the semester in which graduation will occur. The Graduate School’s calendar of Important Dates provides an essential guide to upcoming deadlines. 

Commencement exercises for Penn State graduate students are held at the end of the fall and spring semesters and at the end of the summer session. Ph.D. graduates receive their diplomas during the ceremony. Doctoral students are escorted by the faculty member of their choice (typically, the dissertation adviser). Students who do not attend commencement receive their diplomas in the mail. Diplomas are mailed by the University Registrar, and mailing addresses should be updated on LionPATH.

Manual created by Dr. Glendon Blume and Dr. Rose Mary Zbiek.  Revised May 2019 by Gwen Lloyd (CI Director of Graduate Studies). Approved October 2019 by CI Graduate Faculty.